December 13th, 2013
09:30 AM ET

Call Jesus (or Santa) white? Expect a big fight

Opinion by Edward J. Blum, special to CNN

(CNN) - Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly sparked outrage this week by insisting that Jesus and Santa Claus are both white, saying it's "ridiculous" to argue that depicting Christ and St. Nick as Caucasian is "racist."

"And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white," Kelly said, "but this person is arguing that we should also have a black Santa."

Kelly was responding to an article in Slate that said St. Nick needs a makeover from fat, old white guy to something less "melanin-deficient."

The Fox News host would have none of it.

"Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change," Kelly said. "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact. As is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy, in the story, and change Santa from white to black?"

Arguing about St. Nick, who was originally Greek before Currier & Ives got their hands on him, is one thing. But as for Jesus, people have been arguing about his skin color since the earliest days of American history. You might even call it an American tradition.

What's new about this latest brouhaha is how swiftly Kelly’s remarks were attacked. Thousands of people have rebuked her through blogs, articles, Twitter posts and Facebook updates.

Comedian Jon Stewart accused Kelly of "going full Christmas nog."

“And who are you actually talking to?" Stewart said on "The Daily Show." "Children who are sophisticated enough to be watching a news channel at 10 o’clock at night, yet innocent enough to still believe Santa Claus is real — yet racist enough to be freaked out if he isn’t white?”

It seems that now, if you want to call Christ — or even Santa — white, you should expect a fierce fight.

The immediate and widespread rebuttal showcases how much America has changed over the past few decades. The nation not only has a black president, but also has refused to endorse the Christian savior as white.

Since the earliest days of America, Jesus was thought of as a white man.

When white Protestant missionaries brought Bibles and whitened images of Jesus to Native Americans, at least a few mocked what they saw.

Taking the imagery seriously, the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh asked future President William Henry Harrison, “How can we have confidence in the white people? When Jesus Christ came upon the earth you kill’d and nail’d him on a cross.”

It was not until around 1900 that a group of white Americans explicitly claimed Jesus was white.

Concerned that large numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, especially Jewish immigrants, were “polluting” the nation, anti-immigrant spokesmen like attorney Madison Grant asserted the whiteness of Jesus to justify calls for exclusionary legislation.

READ MORE: From science and computers, a new face of Jesus

Making Jesus white was a means to distance him from Judaism.

“In depicting the crucifixion no artist hesitates to make the two thieves brunet in contrast to the blond Savior,” Grant wrote in his xenophobic best-seller "The Passing of the Great Race."

“This is something more than a convention,” Grant continued, and suggested that Jesus had “Nordic, possibly Greek, physical and moral attributes.”

Even Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that Jesus was white, after being asked why God created Jesus as a white man.

King responded that the color of Christ’s skin didn’t matter. Jesus would have been just as important “if His skin had been black.” He “is no less significant because His skin was white.”

READ MORE: Turkish town cashes in on Saint Nick legacy

Challenges to Christ’s whiteness have a long history, too.

Famed evangelist Billy Graham preached in the 1950s, and then wrote emphatically in his autobiography "Just As I Am," that, “Jesus was not a white man.”

But Graham was far from the first American to contradict the whiteness of Jesus. That honor goes to Methodist and Pequot Indian William Apess.

In 1833, he wrote to white Christians, “You know as well as I that you are not indebted to a principle beneath a white skin for your religious services but to a colored one.”

Almost 100 years later, the Jamaican born, “back-to-Africa” spokesman Marcus Garvey told his followers, “Never admit that Jesus Christ was a white man, otherwise he could not be the Son of God and God to redeem all mankind. Jesus Christ had the blood of all races in his veins.”

In our age, the color of Christ has become both politically dangerous and the butt of jokes.

In 2008, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s words “God damn America” and “Jesus was a poor black boy” almost derailed then-Sen. Barack Obama from winning the Democratic primary.

Now, Kelly bears the brunt of attacks and, in no surprise, was pilloried by comedians like Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Few Americans went on public record against King when he asserted Jesus had white skin in the 1950s. Today, thousands upon thousands from virtually every race and tribe of Americans have taken Kelly’s words seriously and seriously disdained them.

All the chatter about Jesus being white (or not) shows how much America has changed. There used to be “whites’ only” restaurants and schoolrooms. Now, even Jesus cannot be called white without repercussions.

What the debate hides, however, is what Jesus of the Bible actually did and how he related to people.

The gospels are full of discussions about Jesus and bodies. He healed the blind and those who suffered from disease. He touched and was touched by the sick. His body was pierced by thorns, a spear and nails. And he died.

READ MORE: What all those Jesus jokes tell us

The phenotype of Jesus was never an issue in the Bible. Neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke, nor John mentioned Christ’s skin tone or hair color. None called him white or black or red or brown.

Obsessions about race are obsessions of our age, not the biblical one. When asked what mattered most, Jesus did not say his skin tone or body shape. He instructed his followers to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

Maybe this Christmas season, we can reflect not so much on whether or not Jesus was white and instead consider what it meant for him to be called the “light” of the world.

Edward J. Blum is the co-author of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. He can be followed on Twitter @edwardjblum. The views expressed in this column belong to Blum alone.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Art • Belief • Bible • Billy Graham • Black issues • Christianity • Discrimination • Faith • God • Jesus • News media • Opinion • Persecution • Prejudice • Race • United States

soundoff (7,485 Responses)
  1. crakkka

    I know Santa isn't black.. everyone knows that..

    Stop trying to change other peoples traditions.....and maybe create one for the blacks...

    December 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Emma Goldman

      You are wrong. Santa is black. I have seen him. I went to the North Pole and took pictures. I have hard copy evidence.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  2. Jun

    You are right. Eve was taken from Adam which makes her a clone to man. That is why females are called wo-man because she came from the womb of man. Man's genitals are outward while women are inward. Man reproduce sperm or seeds while women have eggs, to be fertilized.
    Also, in reference as to the color of God. God is spirit. Which make him transparent. Therfore, we must worship him in spirit, not in color.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Peter

      Clones are exact genetic copies. So I guess god really did make Adam and Steve.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  3. JT

    one like the Son of Man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle. And His head and His hair were white like wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire; and His feet were like burnished bronze.......Burnished bronze skin.....Kind of answers it right there!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Monk

      Cmon man that's Jesus Heavenly spiritual body not his fleshly one..wich would have been just as middleeasteners are..then and today

      December 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  4. We don't know much about Jesus

    But we do know about Satan! Here's proof!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  5. rhinothatflies

    jesus was middle eastern. olive skinned. proabably brown haired and blue eyed. thats just common sense.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  6. Jesus was Jewish

    The Bible clearly states that Jesus was Jewish, born in what is now Israel and lived his earthly 33 years as a Jew. The color of his skin is irrelevant. He is Lord!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • LB Cole

      Indeed, he was Caesar's Messiah.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
  7. Boo

    Does anyone really care what any of those morons on Fox say about ANYTHING? If you do, you need to have your heads examined.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Ben

      Why is that innocent comment moronic? The morons are the ones who make an issue out of it. Jesus was a Jew. John Stewart is a Jew. Is he saying he is not white. Who is the Moron???

      December 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  8. we see your true color by your talk

    its simple, maybe aisha should get a real name instead of a made up name, Santa is White, Jesus is White, but we can see the true racism in your talk, maybe it would be useful if you would use your so called intellect to teach togetherness rather than division, but as the name states, we see your true color by your talk.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  9. Truth

    All you have to do is read (underscored) the BIBLE to understand fully that Jesus is a man of color and no where near white. First, he was born in Bethlehem which was at that time northeast Africa. His parents hid among the Eqyptians (black people) when Herod was looking for him. The apostle John did describe him as having skin of bronze and hair of wool. There are actually ancient paintings of Christ which are of a black man. The thing is when white men began to steal black people for slavery they used the premise that they wanted to Christianize them which was a farce, because they were already Christianized, they just were not Americanized (or geared towards Capitalism). In order to substantiate their farce they had to make Jesus (God) white to gain supremacy. Christ was in fact Jewish, however, over time Jews migrated north into the areas of Russia and Germany and over time took on a white complexion. During Hitler's persecution of them they migrated back to their homeland, thus bringing the lighter colored Jews into the middle-eastern region. If people spend long periods of time and generations in colder climates they will lose their melanin, which lightens their complexions which explains the lightening of the Jews along with mixing with the white races in northeast regions of Europe. If the color of Christ is not important, then why all of the hupla? To some misguided people, color matters. However, to those who are true disciples of Christ, we understand the real meaning of being disciples which is making more disciples and spreading Christ's teachings which is basically to love God, love everyone else, and love self–in other words LOVE.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Colin

      You said, "First, he was born in Bethlehem which was at that time northeast Africa." WHAT? Are you nuts?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Ben

      this is just as racists as anything described in the article and less factual

      December 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
  10. DRew KaliMan

    Jimmy Kimmel Presents the Fox News Version of It’s a Wonderful Life by Matt Wilstein 11:26 am, December 13th, 2013

    Last night, Jimmy Kimmel took Fox News’ escalated fight against the War on Christmas as an opportunity to present a new promo for the classic film It’s A Wonderful Life. In Fox News world, the story of George Bailey’s triumph over greed becomes “Mr. Potter and the Commies of Bedford Falls.”

    Before Kimmel showed the updated trailer, he looked back at Megyn Kelly’‘s recent attempt to assure all the “kids” watching her 9pm show that Santa Claus — as well as Jesus — “just is white.”

    The (Race) War on Christmas: Megyn Kelly Declares ‘Santa Claus Just Is White’ and So Was Jesus by Tommy Christopher December 12th, 2013

    After Monica Crowley said “you can’t take facts and then try to change them to fit some sort of a political agenda or a sensitively agenda,” Kimmel shot back, “You can’t? I thought that was Fox News’ business model.”

    Megyn Kelly Will Address ‘White Santa’ Controversy Tonight on Her Show
    by Andrew Kirell December 13th, 2013 http://www.mediaite.com/tv/megyn-kelly-will-address-white-santa-controversy-tonight-on-her-show/

    Watch video below, via ABC:

    December 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  11. joe

    Jesus WILL be any color you want him to be – just accept HIM as your Savior!!!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  12. St Nick

    Santa is WHITE. If he was black, George Zimmerman would have shot him by now.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  13. Colin

    The fact is, we know virtually nothing historically reliable about Jesus. It’s a pity the gospels, being the only books in the entire Bible that tell us anything about Jesus’ life, are so horribly unreliable. It would have been wonderful to have a historically reliable docu.ment that told us something about his life. An eyewitness account would have been the best.

    Unfortunately, the best we have are the 4 canonical gospels. They are the only parts of the Bible that docu.ment what Jesus said or did. We don’t even have the originals and it is unlikely that we can reconstruct what the originals said from what we do have, apart from in the broadest terms.

    The oldest gospels we have date from about the early Third Century. They are (of course) handwritten copies of copies of copies etc. of gospels originally written about 150 years before. They were all originally written between 40-65 years after Jesus died by people who never met him, spoke a different language, lived in other parts of the World and relied largely on oral stories circulating in a highly superst.itous time and place. We have no idea how accurately these early Third Century copies even represent the (highly suspect) originals.

    So, for those Christians who base your religious view on what we English speaking people have in the English Bibles on our bookshelves in the 21st Century, you have to face a somewhat sobering fact. Your entire faith is based 100% and solely on interpretations of highly circu.mspect docu.ments written by people you know nothing about, who never met the person whose life they record, and who claim supernatural, magical acts! This in itself ought to be enough to destroy their credibility. There is simply no way around this. Please feel free to disagree

    December 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  14. Sister Valium

    Santa Claus is based on Northern European pagan tradition. The Wild Hunt led by Odin. Therefore, it makes sense for Santa to be White. Or even Eskimo. But black? Give me a break. As for Jesus, ancient mosaics from Ethiopia, Egypt and Greece depict him as being Mediteranean complexioned. Caucasian. Stop the damned political correctness.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  15. sammy zoso

    Fux is not a news station. It is conservative commentary pure and simple. CNN is close behind.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  16. The Machine

    Somewhere in america there is a white and black Jesus..

    December 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  17. LB Cole

    If he actually existed, Jesus of Nazareth would've been middle eastern. This is old new, they reconstructed a typical Israelite of that era a decade ago: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/forensics/1282186

    Somebdy outta hip Megyn to the fact that's she's only perpetuating the Fox News Ignorance stereotype.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  18. kevin

    And now were arguing over "color" of our Savior, and our favorite childhood hero. Whats next? Is this really where we have sunk as a spoiled and depraved society? This moronic writer cant come up with anything else? Were 17 trilion in debt, our economy has been in the toilet for 5 straight years, and health care is blowing up as we speak.... but lets make Jesus/ St. Nick more "acceptable". No wonder other countries hate us... they have REAL problems!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  19. morairt

    Why is Jon Liebovitz (Jon Stewart) commenting on Christmas or Jesus? He celebrates neither.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • foolishmortal

      Why are you criticizing a talk-show host? You are not one.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Derp

      I bet there's a lot of things you don't celebrate that you won't hesitate to comment on. Let's not be hypocritical.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • abcdf

      Why not just call him a filthy Jew and suggest he head for the incinerator?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  20. Amanda

    Jesus was jewish, but yes to most minorities today they are considered "white" even if they have a little bit darker skin than the average european complexion.

    Santa's fictional so who cares if he's black or white.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.